Four Corners

Salak, Kira. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea: One Woman’s Solo Journey.
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: One Woman’s Solo Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.

Reason read: November is supposedly a really good time to visit Papua New Guinea, if you enjoy that kind of dangerous travel.
Confessional: I started reading the uncorrected proof of this memoir before receiving the published version.

There is no doubt Kira Salak is a strong woman. As an eleven year old kid her father taught her how to handle a gun. She remembers her father encouraging his young daughter to aim between the eyes. All her life Kira considered herself tough, wanting to be a soldier, a warrior of Green Beret quality. For all of her courage, time and time again while reading Four Corners I was struck dumb by her seat-of-her-pants travel style in Papua New Guinea. Salak travels beyond the outer reaches of civilization because she has an inexplicable calling to do so. It seems incredulous one could be so naive about everything, including basic survival skills for the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Salak goes into the region without a clear plan or even a way to support herself should the missionaries and locals refuse to ensure her safe passage regardless of the money and/or gifts she has to offer. She’s a creative writing student with no concrete connection to why she is there. Other reviewers of Four Corners called Salak “lucky.” She is that and then some!

I love it when a book makes me curious about other things. After reading Four Corners I had to research Well’s morlocks and Christian’s mutineers.

Quotes I had to quote, “Sometimes our lives are chosen for us, and we have about as much control over the matter as we do the situation we’re born into” (p 13), “Living is nothing but an attempt to champion the choice you’ve made” (p 148), “I am looking at hate, a hate so deep it’s palpable” (p 168).

Author fact: Salak has her own website and the photos I was hoping to see in Four Corners can be found here.

Book trivia: I was hoping for pictures (since the cover is so interesting) but none were included. See comment above.

Nancy said: Pearl had a different title for this book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Pearl also said “for a goodly dash of [great beauty and danger] try Four Corners (Book Lust To Go p 150).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super simple chapter called New Guinea (p 150).


Sporting Club

McGuane, Thomas. The Sporting Club. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.

Reason read: The Mackinac Bridge was built in November of 1957.

To be honest with you, I’m not really sure what this book was trying to say. I could spout off about a general plot, the characters and the like, but really I don’t know if I landed on the reality what I read.
You have Vernon Stanton and James Quinn for main characters. All Quinn wants to do is be a gentleman and have gentlemanly sex with Janey or anyone who will have him, but unfortunately he keeps running into trouble with loose cannon Stanton; constantly getting caught up in the childish antics of his childhood chum. Stanton is a millionaire with a nasty habit of picking up dueling pistols at the slightest provocation. His behavior is often times outrageous and crass. I couldn’t land on a solid plot that made sense and I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in the characters I met. There was an abundance of posturing, butt sniffing, and pardon my language, dick measuring. Luckily, it was a short read.

Quote I happened to like, “He was close enough to his success to be spurred on by amazement” (p 22).

Author fact: McGuane is better known for his third book, Ninety-Two in the Shade (also on my Challenge list and completed) which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974.

Book trivia: The Sporting Club is McGuane’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called the fiction of McGuane “exquisitely tough and gritty” (p 101).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Gone Fishin'” (p 100). I have to say The Sporting Club doesn’t really belong in this chapter. The sport of fishing does take place in the book but not often enough.


Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows

Chamoiseau, Patrick. Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows. Translated by Linda Coverdale. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1988.

Reason read: October is the month to celebrate Magical Realism.

The spiritual awakenings of the long dead undead and the magical presence of the beam of everlasting moonlight across the wayward ocean of the Caribbean. Siloce, Hepla, Kouli, Mam Elo, Ti-Boute, Fefee Celie, Anatase, Ti-Choute, Bidjoule, and all the others thread their way through witchcraft markets teeming with childbirth and djobbers like Didon, Sirop, Pin-Pon, Lapochide, Sifilon and our hero, Pipi Soleil. It takes thirty pages to get to Pipi Soleil through abundant pregnancies and whatnot, but Pipi as as king of the wheelbarrow takes center stage. The first thing you need to understand is this is a story told by ghosts and witchcraft and moves back and forth through time as though sequence is of no matter, because it isn’t. Spanning thirty years from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s, Martinique’s Fort-de-France teems full of djobbers, independent transporters of wares and Pipi Soleil rules them all. He once hauled his wares by boat but after one particularly stormy night he gave up the sea for a wheelbarrow. Even if the plot does not grab you, the lyrical writing will.

Confessional: I have said this before. I am not a good reader of magical realism. I find myself annoyed by the seemingly unrelated fantastical. Seems like more of a trick to me than a treat.

Lines I lived, “She was going to grab fate, she said, by a different end” (p 18), “the young couple made their love debut in this setting – which isn’t of the slightest importance” (p 29), and “She dumped out a big basket of weariness and brought laughter and smiles back form some lost corner of her mind” (p 85).

Author fact: Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows was Chamoiseau’s first novel.

Book trivia: Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows was first published in France in 1986.

Nancy said: Peal called Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows a “vivid” novel.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).


Lou Reed: Notes from the Velvet Underground

Confessional: I had a really hard time reading about Lou Reed. I had always heard stories about his despicable character and was hoping most of it was a lot of bunk; I wanted it to be that Lou felt he had to keep up a persona cultivated by his involvement with Andy Warhol and the drug infested 1960s. I was wrong. He was a dick seemingly from birth.
There is no doubt Sounes is very sympathetic towards Reed and his less than admirable character. He made excuses for his bad behavior throughout the entire book, calling Reed a “provocateur extraordinaire” as early as the high school years. It is very obvious Lou loved to push buttons early on and did not care in the very least about the consequences. It was if he had a bone to pick with the entire world and spent his entire life trying to get even. He was a troublemaker. He was mean. He acted strange. He was often cranky. Drugs made him even more paranoid than he naturally was. He was a chauvinist and had a thing against women. He welcomed violence against women and had a habit of smashing, shoving, smacking, slapping them. At times Sounes seems conflicted. He states Reed clearly meant to project an image by being a prick, but in the very same sentence admits Reed was the person he projected (p 160).
Reed and his “provocateur extraordinaire” personality aside, Sounes’s exhausted research and attention to detail jumps out of every page of the biography. You can smell the grit of New York’s grungy streets and feel the beer soaked stickiness of the music scene. Warhole, Nico, Bowie, Iggy…they all live and breathe with vibrancy in Lou Reed. It’s as if Sounes bottled their souls and that alone makes the read worth it.


Master of Hestviken: the Axe

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: the Axe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge. The category is women in translation.

Considered to be the companion to Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, The Master of Hestviken series tells the saga of Olav Audunsson in thirteenth century Norway. As a boy he was raised by a foster family. When you are first plunked down in the middle of the drama you meet Steinfinn, a young man who fell in love with a fair maiden named Ingebjorg. So far so good, except Ingebjorg was betrothed to someone named Mattias. Doesn’t matter. Steinfinn and Ingebjorg run away and live together as if they are man and wife. They soon have a family of three children, one of them being the beautiful Ingunn. In addition to their own children they foster a young lad by the aforementioned name of Olav Audunsson. Thus begins the romance of Ingunn and Olav. Both Olav and Ingunn’s fathers agreed the two would grow up to marry each other, but after Steinfinn passes the young couple are told it was only a game their fathers played and the betrothal is not real. Cue the violins, people. Olav commits murder with an axe named Kinfetch and that complicates things. He escapes punishment but in the meantime Ingunn is struck by some mysterious paralysis amid rumors of witchcraft. And the plot thickens. Especially when she becomes pregnant during Olav’s exile…

As an aside, I have to admit, thirteenth century drama is not my cup of tea. Luckily, The Master of Hestviken is chopped up into four books and each book is a little over 200 pages long.

Author fact: Undset was originally born in Denmark.

Book trivia: Master of Hestviken was originally published in one single volume and according to the inside flap, had been out of print in England until 1962.

Nancy said: The Axe is part of the series that Pearl considers Unset’s “other” masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


October Light

Gardner, John. October Light. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Reason read: Autumn in New England is pretty fantastic. October Light takes place (mostly) in Vermont.

When I first picked up October Light I thought it was going to be this old-timey story about two elderly siblings, living in seething resentment of one another in a farmhouse somewhere in Vermont. Admittedly, the book jacket didn’t give me much to go on.
So, the plot: James Page is angry at the world. So angry he can’t stand his sister Sally’s droning television and ends up silencing it with a shotgun blast. The shooting of the television sets in motion a series of events – James locks Sally in a room (but seemingly not her own room because she finds a trashy novel which doesn’t belong to her). She becomes absorbed in said trashy novel; literally can’t put it down and refuses to come out of the bedroom, even when her niece convinces James to free her. James doesn’t care either way. In truth, he is not without deep rooted grief, a grief that has hardened to him. One son committed suicide and another died in an accident. James’s sister, widowed and a polar opposite, does nothing to comfort him. The epic sibling battle lasts for the entire book and escalates to a catastrophic ending.
I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy the frame novel technique. Sally’s trashy novel seemed to be the story Gardner really wanted to write. There is no explanation of how this trashy novel came to be in her room until the end. In truth, the story came alive for me in the last fifty pages.

Confessional: the phrase “New England piss and vinegar” had me smiling. Yes, I know the type.

Line I liked, “It was a fact if life that if people knew what you were feeling they could work you around” (p 64).

Author fact: October Light uses the framed novel technique of a story within a story. Gardner does a great job with both voices.

Book trivia: October Light was illustrated by Elaine Raphael and Don Bolognese.

Nancy said: Pearl said October Light was another good novel set in New England. Really, I would beg to differ. Because this is a framed novel only a portion of it takes place in Vermont and even then the location is a rundown Vermont farmhouse. Not a lot of it takes place out and about in New England. Only at the end do you get a real sense of what it is like to live in New England…the covered bridges, mud season, endless waiting for spring…

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “New England Novels” (p 177).


Wyoming Summer

O’Hara, Mary. Wyoming Summer. New York: Doubleday, 1963.

Reason read: October marks the month O’Hara passed away. Read in her memory.

Wyoming Summer unfolds as a love letter to the wild west. Originating from O’Hara’s journals, it tells the story of her life on a Wyoming ranch. She loves her horses, her dude-ranch summer camp for teenage boys, and even a wayward bull who keeps getting loose and raising hell across the prairie. Her music, milking cows, and marriage to husband Michael help keep her grounded, for it isn’t an easy life on the range. Setbacks come in the form of unpredictable weather, failing crops, and rejection letters and yet O’Hara finds perfection in all of it.
People will probably recognize O’Hara’s book, My Friend Flicka, more readily than Wyoming Summer. I enjoyed the small introduction of acquiring the horse at the end of Wyoming Summer. A glimpse of things to come as My Friend Flicka is also on my Challenge list.

Author fact: O’Hara was also an accomplished pianist and composer.

Book trivia: I wish there were pictures but sadly, there are none to be found.

Nancy said: Pearl said Wyoming Summer isn’t really set in Wyoming but the small sections that are make us feel as though we are really there. Did she and I read different books? I felt that a great deal of Wyoming Summer took place in Wyoming. The dude-ranch camp, the farming, the raising of horses…I didn’t count the pages but I felt it was significant enough to call it Wyoming Summer.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “WY Ever Not?” (p 262).